The Mummy - 75th Anniversary Edition DVD Review
PictureI've had several different editions of The Mummy now and I would state that this one possibly looks the best of the bunch. Now this has been remastered since its last incarnation in the Monster Legacy Collection, but there is no huge leap up in quality with regards to age-related damage. With its full-frame 1.33:1 ratio, the black and white image is prone to scratches, pops, wavering lines and contrast glitches throughout, but the beauty of the print is the detail that it still contains. The swirling mists in the mystic pool, the glistening blood on the spear-tips of the impaled slaves, the rough and striated blade of Im-ho-tep's sacred dagger, the clarity of the hieroglyphics on parchment, wall and sarcophagus and, of course, the wonderful old-age makeup on Karloff and the withered, dishevelled countenance of his mummified self seen at the start all look slightly more revealing and sharper than before.
The famous scene when Karloff invites Johann to look into the pool and see her former life as Anckesenamon is let down slightly by some frame wobbles, but this has been apparent in every version that I have ever seen. Grain has been cleaned up, though not too much as to destroy the fine filmic texture of the picture. Blacks are never going to be truly black with a print such as this, but they do their job. Shadows in the museum are really quite deep and the shading on Karloff's face is pretty decent. Also, check out the subdued lighting in the cab as Van Sloan and Manners cruise in front of the experimental back-projection plates of a real-life Cairo - little flutters of shadows cross over their faces too. Those deep-focus shots look a little more apparent this time out, too, with a slightly greater texture to the depth and more detail revealed on the figures further away.
With only a modicum of edges enhanced and little to no compression artefacts on display, and considering what the engineers have had to work with in the first place, The Mummy looks about as good as it can do until the eventual leap to high definition either makes or breaks it. This transfer gets a respectful 7 out of 10 - on this format, how could it look any better? Contrast niggles, juddery frames, grain and scratches - it's all part of the film.
SoundThe Mummy is brought back to life courtesy of a Dolby Digital 2-channel mono track that does the best it can with such vintage material. There is a constant hiss at play beneath the soundtrack, though this is certainly nothing to get worked-up over. Dialogue is always clear and what little there is of the score is reasonably well-presented. To be fair, there really isn't much else that I can say about it. Separation is not in evidence and the track, itself, is hardly detailed or imbued with nuance.
Apart from the hiss, there is actually very little damage - no pops, drop-outs or mush - and although the track sounds far from clean and crisp, I doubt that anyone could have a problem with it. It is from 1932, after all, and all those crackles and muted effects have the potency of age to back them up, supplying a wealth of atmosphere that some may call creaky, others call classic.
ExtrasTwo commentary tracks grace The Mummy. The first, from is a horribly dry and overly academic effort from Paul M. Jenson that acts more often like a descriptive audio track for the partially sighted, the speaker merely telling us exactly what is happening on-screen. Now, I don't mind these stuffy, fast-spoken commentaries from predominantly American historians/scholars - the likes of Rudy Behlmer, Tom Weaver and Scot McQueen spring to mind - who insist on telling us the full acting, tea-making credits of literally everyone involved with the movie (and their dogs!), but this track came perilously close to boring me rigid, I'm afraid. He supplies a fair degree of technical information and points out some framing and narrative devices that Freund has utilised, and he presents us with myriad script annotations, deviations and excisions that are valuable - especially about how Balderstone's treatment came to resemble the later screenplay for Merian C. Cooper's lavish She (1935) as he was also working on drafts of this at the same time as writing The Mummy - but there is zero enjoyment factor employed. Jenson is so obviously reading from notes and so monotone that it is difficult to keep your eyes open. If a dissenter was hoping to have their opinions altered about Universal's slowest, most reserved of horror films, then this track would do nothing to persuade them.
Considerably better is the group effort from Scott Essman, Steve Haberman, Bob Burns, Brent Armstrong and Rick Baker. Baker, it must be said, is possibly the Achilles heel of the track, though. Seemingly recorded separately from the others, he only has about three sections of speech during the film, all revolving unsurprisingly around Pierce's makeup for Karloff. The problem with this is that he rapidly runs of things to say about it and simply repeats himself, which is a little tedious in what is an otherwise marvellously entertaining chat-track. The others have a fine time dissecting the film, its actors, their performances and the screenplay they are working off. There are anecdotes and opinions aplenty. It is true that they all unashamedly love the film - indeed, they love all the Universal horror output from the 30's and 40's as their frequent contributions to these discs amply show - and they can tend to fawn all over it, but their comments about how standards differ between then and now, how censorship was relaxed in those pre-Code days, Freund's suggestive camerawork and the wonderful dedication that Karloff exhibits are eminently listenable. Personally, I loved their contributions and wished I could have been sat there with them to chew the vintage fat.
Disc 1 also houses the documentary Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed (30.11 mins). Well presented and featuring a glorious title sequence that depicts Imhotep's visage receding into darkness and leaving only his hypnotic eyes to burn yellow and feral at us - very akin to a similar shot that marks the start of the horrific opening double-murder in Dario Argento's Suspiria - this is a fine and detailed look at the production of the movie and the cast who brought it to live. Particular attention is paid to the astounding makeup from Jack Pierce and there are interesting and amusing anecdotes about Karloff's plight underneath it all. Presented by Rudy Behlmer in a fabulously restored 1930's LA cinema - all Egyptian décor, aptly enough - and featuring great participation from Sara Karloff - the icon's daughter - Rick Baker, historians Greg Mank, Steve Haberman and even Jensen, again, though this time he much more animated and spontaneous. David Del Valle tells us about Zita Johann's occult beliefs and Greg Mank informs us of the actress's headstrong and defiant personality. In al, this is a great little documentary.
Rounding off the disc are some fabulous Posters and Stills and a trailer gallery for all five vintage Universal Mummy films. The stills play along in a slideshow lasting almost ten minutes and are nicely accompanied by the film's score.
Disc 2 more than delivers the goods with three more excellent documentaries. The first one is the excellent “He Who Made Monsters: The Life And Art Of Jack Pierce” which is a very satisfying 25-minute tribute to a man who single-handedly took Lon Chaney Snr.'s concept of makeup effects to trailblazing new dimensions. Karloff cited him as being the reason that he found success. Lugosi was so egotistical that he was actually envious of Pierce's talents and was frequently found applying his own little extras. Chaney Jnr. was only too pleased that his own clumsy hands - not at all like his father's - could relax whilst the yak-hair specialist transformed him into his all-time favourite role of the Wolf Man time and time again. There are plenty of stills of the great man at work and a few little home movies on the set of Son Of Frankenstein and contributions from an array of today's makeup artists - Baker, again, going over old ground, Tom Savini, Tom Burman, Nick Dudman and others - and the whole piece is very movingly brought to a close when we discover the poverty and anonymity of Jack Pierce's final days, forgotten and reclusive. I was brought up on these movies and view them as my formal education in films in general and of the genre, in particular, and Jack P. Pierce was one of the foremost at steering my imagination into these wild and iconic waters - and I find it so sad that such an influential artist and veritable genius can only be celebrated like this long after his death.
Unveiling The Legacy Of The Mummy is 8 minutes that merely reminisce briefly on the original movie before seguing none-too-subtly into a promo for Stephen Sommers' more modern and CG-overloaded interpretations. I really enjoyed his Raiders-style take on the genre, but I don't like this kind of EPK hijacking of a featurette that claims to be something else entirely.
Finally, Disc 2 presents the wonderful and comprehensive 1998 documentary Universal Horror, narrated by Kenneth Branagh, This featured on both the Dracula and Frankenstein Anniversary Editions too - and here's what I had to say about in reviews for them ...
... a very entertaining look at the history of the famous studio, paying particular attention to its Golden Era of chillers. Running for a satisfying 95 mins, the documentary is narrated by Kenneth Brannagh - no stranger to Frankenstein, himself - and contains many wonderful interviews from the likes of film historian and author David J. Skal, Rudy Behlmer, Karloff's daughter Sara, author Ray Bradbury and actors James Karen and Gloria Stuart, who was so gorgeous when she starred opposite Karloff in Whale's The Old Dark House (reviewed separately). With an amazing amount of clips from their own movies and those that inspired their directors - The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu prominently - we are also treated to many stills from behind the scenes and a vast assortment of anecdotes. Universal's key producers and studio heads are covered in detail and the influence of their classic output during this period is discussed with respect and high regard by all concerned. It is nice the way that the participants convey their memories of first seeing these films and the profound effect the experiences had upon them. An excellent documentary that only comes undone with the fact that it has no archived interviews with the big hitters themselves, people like James Whale, Karloff and that other Titan Of Terror, Bela Lugosi - although they are quoted often.
Whilst the previous edition of The Mummy also contained all the sequels, collectors won't mind forking-out again for this release. The added commentary and features supply just that little bit more that fans will crave.
VerdictA sure-fire classic of the uncanny, The Mummy should be viewed for what it does deliver rather than what it doesn't. Pre-Hays Code, the amount of flesh that Zita Johann reveals is a tonic and the slow, trance-like atmosphere of mystery and unease is superlative. Did Balderstone simply rehash and relocate his Dracula screenplay to Cairo? Well, yes he did. But Karloff and Johann work such wonders under the stately direction of Karl Freund that this familiarity is easy to overlook. Triple-dipping your bandaged toes into the sand-seas of ancient Egypt is made all the more palatable with the extra features that have been added for this 75th Anniversary Special Edition. The group commentary is a wonderfully nostalgic fan-fest from people who know the genre inside-out and fully understand and appreciate the power of these vintage masterpieces. The AV quality may only be a minimal step-up from prior versions but, overall, this is an exceptionally worthy release and sits beautifully alongside its companion-pieces in Dracula and Frankenstein. Universal are weaving their own little spells into these book-jacketed discs and when these eternal horrors finally find their way on to Blu-ray, I, for one, will not think twice about adding yet more additions to the shelves. Very highly recommended.